November 5, 2014

Starting Churches in the 21st Century

While many such studies have been conducted by evangelical associations, as far as I know this is the first study of its kind! A survey conducted on new congregations from mainline denominations over an extended period of time. While I wish new Episcopal congregations had been included, I doubt it would have made much of a difference in their results.

There are several important findings that I hope folks will pay attention to in this report. But there are a few that stood out to me immediately:

The success of a new faith community does not necessarily correlate with the cost, or investment. While I, personally, would love to see mainline denominations invest more in planting new churches, I have long been convinced that money was not one of the determining factors of success. As most denominations have fewer resources, this is good news. It also means that, increasingly, funding is likely going to come through unconventional methods.

Another factor that stood out to me was that our traditional training (ie. seminaries and bootcamps) are not determining factors of success. Most seminaries do a pretty poor job of leadership development in general–there are exceptions (IMHO). And most bootcamps tend to lean on models that worked in the 80's–which, this report states, produce fewer and fewer results in contemporary culture. How are we going to support and develop leaders? It's obvious that this is more than financial. It also seems to have something to do with on going support that attends to the well being and development of leaders–both lay and ordained.

A Move Towards Denominations?
I have only had the chance to skim the report so far–so I may have missed this–but I would love to know how many of these communities had their initial start and then moved towards a denomination. I have personally seen a lot of this and I wonder how many of these communities evolved that way. Why does this happen? There's likely lots of reasons, but my personal opinion is that it often stems from a desire to be a part of something larger than just the local expression of the church.

Thanks to the Center for Progressive Renewal for this work!